Obama's payment to Iran was more than a ransom. It was illegal.

In sum, the Obama administration has provided Iran with $400 million under circumstances in which it well knows that at least some of this cash will be used for terrorism. Indeed, as the editors point out, by providing the money in cash, Obama makes it more likely that it will be used for terrorism: Iran likes to deny its complicity in jihadist acts; so now, flush with cash, it can fund atrocities without leaving a paper trail.

The second law involves money laundering, criminalized by Congress in Section 1956 of the penal code. There are several prohibited varieties of money laundering. It can be a crime, for example, to conduct a financial transaction involving money used to facilitate unlawful activity. And if money is transferred outside the United States, it can be illegal to use it to promote criminal activity.

As we’ve seen, both currency transmissions to Iran and the provision of material support to terrorism are unlawful activities. The administration has conducted a financial transaction (in fact, several transactions: the issuance of the assets, their conversion into foreign currency, and the transmission to Iran) which facilitated both currency transfers to Iran and Iran’s certain use of the money to support terrorism. Plus, the money was shipped outside the United States before being transferred to Iran and before Iran will use it to promote terrorism. Money-laundering cases often boil down to proof of intent; but there clearly are multiple grounds on which to investigate whether the laws have been transgressed.

The circumstances of Obama’s enormous cash transfer to our terrorist enemies raise serious questions about whether American policy against paying ransoms to terrorists has been flouted. But that should not obscure a more fundamental issue: The president has violated the law.